SBJ/Jan. 10-16, 2011/Media

NHL Net adds execs with eye on distribution, content

The NHL Network has beefed up its executive roster with the year-end goal of putting the network in 60 million American homes, launching new original content and broadening its presence in Europe.
Former ESPN producer Mark Preisler joins the NHL Network this week as an executive producer, and his addition comes less than a month after the NHL hired David Proper as the league’s executive vice president of media strategies and distribution. Proper was vice president of programming at Time Warner Cable.
In September, the league brought in former NFL Network executive Charles Coplin as executive vice president of content, who then in November hired Bob Chesterman as vice president of programming. Chesterman previously created an in-park television network for Six Flags theme parks and helped develop ESPN’s programming for the World Series of Poker.
“We are still in the growth mode, and we will continue to build ambitiously with staff as is dictated by the growth of the business,” said NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins, who oversees the league’s media content. “But we have a good team in place, and now we have to prioritize what the primary mission of the network is.”
Collins said the team’s initial goal is to unify the network’s content and image with the league’s website, Center Ice package and GameCenter Live out-of-market streaming service. The team will then revamp the network’s 60-minute news and highlights show, “NHL on the Fly,” and develop new national pre- and postgame shows. Collins said the network also would take a serious look into producing behind-the-scenes programming in the same style as HBO’s recent “24/7” series that featured the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals before this year’s Winter Classic.
Coplin, who worked alongside Collins at the NFL, said the team is in the “idea phase.”
Charles Coplin
“Right now our ideas far exceed our ability to execute. We need to develop the fundamentals to go forward.”
Charles Coplin  
Executive Vice President of content
NHL

“At this point no ideas within reason are off the table,” he said. “Right now our ideas far exceed our ability to execute. We need to develop the fundamentals to go forward.”
The plans are ambitious for the NHL Network, which launched in Canada in 2001 and the United States in 2007 as a joint venture between the league and Versus. The channel’s programming revolves around “NHL on the Fly,” broadcasts of CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” and NHL and college games. The channel is not rated by Nielsen, something Collins says he hopes to change by year’s end.
John Shannon, former NHL executive vice president, said the primary challenge facing the network is the difference in culture and coverage between the Canadian and American markets. The NHL Network is produced in Toronto, but the majority of its viewership is in the United States.
“It was a challenge because Canadian viewers didn’t always want to watch what we had for Americans,” said Shannon, who is now a hockey analyst for Rogers Canada. “The network was never going to be above No. 5 in Canada because hockey comes out of the ground here, so the question is, How do you make an impact in the United States?”
Collins agreed that the saturation of hockey media in Canada means the network will focus on becoming the destination for hockey coverage in the United States. He also said the success of the NHL’s GameCenter Live broadband streaming service in Europe speaks to promising opportunities on the other side of the Atlantic.
Preisler and Chesterman will report to Coplin, who will in turn report to Collins. Proper, who spent 3 1/2 years with Time Warner Cable, also will report to the COO. Collins said Proper will be integral in unifying the league’s broadcast rights with existing and emerging technologies, overseeing affiliate sales and marketing, and negotiating rights for broadcast in Europe.
Proper, who worked alongside Collins as general counsel at the NFL, begins working for the NHL today. He said he would like to expand the network’s coverage to include games from European leagues.
“Some of the best players in the world come out of those leagues,” he said, “and we don’t see them until they have developed for four or five years.”
Preisler, who spent the last two years as a senior coordinating producer for ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight,” will oversee the revamp of “NHL on the Fly.” According to Coplin, Preisler also will develop news and opinion programming to boost the network’s coverage of the league’s tent-pole events, such as the Winter Classic, All-Star Game and Stanley Cup playoffs.
Preisler, a Buffalo native who played hockey through high school, said his goal is to create content that dives deeper into the game and its players.
“The more we can get inside the game of hockey,” he said, “[we can] use analysis to break down the game and tell people things they don’t know.”
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